Friday, May 30, 2008

Our last full day in the city ... savoring every last gluten free bite!

Today is our last full day in New York. We decide to go to the National Museum of the American Indian in the morning. The weather looked 'iffy' so we packed a mini travel umbrella in our tote bag, just in case it rains. Once inside the Museum (where security is tighter than at most airports) we quickly became disappointed. Much of the space was closed off and what was open was interesting, but not what we thought it would be. I'm 1/16th Cherokee Indian so I wanted to read more about tribes found in the Southern US. But the entire Museum focused on the Northwestern tribes. It was educational learning about tribes we'd never heard of, but we were glad we didn't have to pay to get in. I've heard that the same museum in DC is fabulous so we'll try to visit it one day.
It was still overcast when we hopped on the subway about a block away and headed to a place I'd read about right before we left Atlanta. It's called S'MAC (short for Sarita's Mac-N-Cheese) located in the East Village. Being from the South, I was not missing an opportunity to have mac-n-cheese in a restaurant. You might be wondering how a place can serve only one type of dish and stay open. But you see, S'MAC serves many different types of mac-n-cheese and all options can be ordered with gluten free pasta. In fact, the owner (who developed gluten intolerance after she opened the place) spent eight months developing her gluten free offerings. She would not serve it to gluten free patrons until her glutenoid customers could not tell the difference between the gluten and gluten free versions. Finally, after trying many different types of gluten free pasta, she found one that would freeze and reheat well (a lot of her business is take out) and she removed all gluten breadcrumbs and replaced them with gluten free cornflakes. Even the glutenoid patrons get gluten free breadcrumbs...they probably just don't know!

After reading Catherine's review of this place, I knew I had to try the Parisienne, but I wanted the basic classic version as well. I thought we should order three types of mac-n-cheese but my more logical husband advised me that we should start with only two 'nosh' sized pans. When the food was delivered to the table, I reconfirmed it was gluten free and was assured it was. It's sort of a foreign concept for someone with Celiac to have mac-n-cheese in a restaurant. But that's what was in front of me and so I dug in....all that melted cheese....figs and Brie in the Parisienne. I simply could not believe this incredible mac-n-cheese was gluten free. It's hard to find a gluten free pasta that tastes good AND reheats and freezes well. In the end, my husband fell in love with the Parisienne and I could not get enough of the classic 'All American' version!

A few days after we returned from New York, my husband asked if S'MAC sold their stuff online...he's never ever asked me that about any food before. And remember, though he doesn't often do it, he can eat gluten. That is how fabulous Sarita's food is. You could serve it to the most picky gluten eater you know and they would never suspect it didn't contain wheat! Oh and the answer is yes - S'MAC will soon be shipping their Partay! sized portions in the US! Thanks Sarita for this little piece of Heaven on earth - you're an angel in our community!

Even though it would be our last dinner in NYC, for a while anyway, we decided not to patronize a place with a gluten free menu, but instead go to a place that had an amazing Chef, who happened to know how to serve safe, but creative gluten free meals. Centrico is such a place. It's a trendy spot located in SoHo. Though the patio was packed when we arrived, it was also cramped looking, so we opted for a lovely large table with a view of the entire restaurant inside. The staff knew of my gluten free needs before we arrived ( request) and so our server proudly informed me that they serve Redbridge beer. Good to know but I passed and had a margarita instead. The server also informed me that I should pick out a couple of things that looked good to me on the menu, and he'd find out if those dish could be made gluten free, or if they were gluten free without modification.

To start, we tried the stuffed plantain appetizer. We'd never had anything like it before and it was amazing! As it happened, both the entrees that intrigued us were gluten free as prepared. No modifications were needed. I really love ordering such dishes because there is less chance that the kitchen will throw a piece of bread...or gravy....or whatever on my plate, rendering it unsafe for me to eat. The first dish below is the roasted duck with spicy red fruit sauce and asparagus. Below that is my seared salmon over some pureed root vegetables and asparagus, drizzled with a chili oil. The fish was coated with a ground almond mixture and it was absolutely divine! We disagreed about who'd ordered the best!

I think we could only have flan or ice cream for dessert but we cleaned our plates and could not eat another bite. Centrico is a totally hip place, but luckily we were not the only ones our age in! Whether you eat gluten or not, please give it a try if you're in the area and haven't yet. You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Peaceful Oasis in NYC - Day Four of our Gluten Free Vacation!

After three busy days in the city, we decided to take a break from the hustle and bustle and head up to The Cloisters
Museum, located at the very northern tip of Manhattan. It's part of the MET but we'd never heard of it before a friend in Atlanta mentioned it just prior to our trip. We are so glad we took the jaunt to this ever so lovely and peaceful place. It's beautiful there and the views are absolutely spectacular!
We toured inside the Museum on our own before getting a bite to eat at the outdoor cafe. We'd packed energy bars, pretzels and chocolate chip cookies from Everybody Eats since we only knew there was a cafe, not that I could find anything safe there. Luckily, we were able to split a large cranberry/goat cheese salad and some gluten free chips. We ate our own cookies for dessert. It was a gorgeous, warm day and the shaded cafe tables have a view of one of the Cloisters (above left). After a most satisfying gluten free lunch, we headed inside to meet up with the 1 pm tour, which offers an overview of the history of the Museum and more detail about many of the plantings in the three Cloisters located there. The flower below was an even more brilliant hue of magenta in person than shown here, and the plant on the right is Rhubarb, which I'd never seen in person before. The leaves are actually poisonous and the stalk is the edible.

One of my husbands favorite pies is Strawberry-Rhubarb and now that I'm a more confident gluten free baker, I'm going to attempt making him one ....eventually. We recently discovered we live only ten miles from a Strawberry Farm, so I can't put if off much!

After The Cloisters guided tour we headed back to the 190th Street subway station and got off the train near Central Park. From reading about Shauna's NYC adventure and her time at the John Lennon Imagine Memorial at the park, I wanted to go pay my respects there as well. Along the way, we passed the man who calls himself the Mayor of Strawberry Fields. He announced quite loudly that he would return momentarily - we're not quite sure he was speaking to.... Anyway, we had a moment of silence and took some photos and left before the Mayor returned. However, we ran into him the following day near The Dakota.

Tonight we're going to see 'Hairspray' so after a short stroll around the lower west side of Central Park (which is gargantuan), we made our way back to Wyman House to get ready for an early dinner and the show.

Through a Celiac listserve query, I found out about a place called 'Cesca on the UWS, that offered gluten free options, but did not have a gluten free menu per se. I noticed too, that Catherine had it listed on her favorite NYC restaurant guide so we decided to give it a try. We'd made advanced early bird reservations and noticed that the pre-theatre menu posted on the website asked that no substitutions be made so I assumed that the $31 deal was out for me. But when we arrived, our server (who'd been made aware of my gluten free needs through the note) explained that the special theatre menu allowed gluten free options for each course that evening. And so I was able to take advantage of the special theatre menu and my meal was one of the best of the trip - and only $31!

To start I had a buffalo mozzarella salad...amazing of course. My main course was a chicken dish that had a balsamic reduction with grapes, served over mashed potatoes. I'm not talented enough to describe how incredible this dish husband's risotto was wonderful and could not hold a candle to my entree. Since my meal was so filling I opted for the sorbet for dessert, instead of creme brulee. It was a combination of blood orange, mango and blueberry - one scoop of each. Without question, this was the BEST sorbet either of us had ever had. We could not get over it...I've never had sorbet that I wanted to eat until I was sick but this was that fabulous! Luckily, my husband was there to help consume it, as it was a very generous portion. For a place without a gluten free menu, 'Cesca takes great care in understanding what gluten intolerance is. And so eating there was a worry free and delicious experience. The ambiance is wonderful here and there is not an air of pretentiousness about it, even though it's a very upscale place. Another fabulous find in NYC!

With very full bellies - we left 'Cesca and headed to the Niel Simon Theatre to see 'Hairspray - the Musical'. Remember that I mentioned out tickets were free? While they were not bad seats, upstairs in the dead center, my 6'1" husband likes and aisle seat so he can stick out his long legs for comfort. Our smack-dab-in-the-middle of-the-row seats didn't allow for that and he was fairly uncomfortable. And to be honest, I'm almost a foot shorter than him and I was pretty cramped as well. But the show was fabulous and George Wendt (from Cheers) played the Mama role. We had no idea he was in the cast, or that he could sing! The entire cast was wonderfully talented, as most Broadway Actors are, and I loved this production of Hairspray better than the first movie. I haven't seen the John Travolta movie version yet. If you like musicals and big hair, go see this show!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Day Three in NYC - More Fabulous Gluten Free Food!

Today is our 19th wedding anniversary. I've been with my husband half my life. It's hard to believe really but it's true...I guess the calendar doesn't lie. Today we are going to take our time getting around so we can have a stress free day and enjoy this great city and each other. We start by making breakfast from our leftover chicken from Sambuca. We had eggs and goat cheese in our little fridge so we made goat cheese and chicken scrambled eggs which were excellent! We also split a hearty bagel from Everybody Eats and had some fruit.

After we'd planned this vacation, I was notified by a trade group I belong to, that they would host a large National trade show in NYC at the Javits Center during the time we'd be there. After much consideration I decided not to attend the show. This is our main vacation of the year and taking two days out of it for work just didn't feel right. However, as part of the show package (which is free to members) we were able to get free tickets to the musical 'Hairspray'. The only downside was we had to go all the way to the Javits Center in person to pick them up. The tickets were given out on a first come, first serve basis so we allowed Tuesday morning to get there and pick them up, before heading to a very special spot for lunch.

Though Trip Advisor I knew which bus to take straight to Javits. We took the subway to Columbus Circle and headed to the bus stop and promptly got on the M34 bus - going the wrong way. Of course we figured this out the first stop and hopped off, crossed the street and waited for the M34 but going towards Javits. While waiting for the correct bus, I wandered into 'The Sunglass Hut' and was surprised to see several beefy security guards there. Then I realized there is not a pair of sunglasses in there for less than $150 and many ran over $300! Fearing that I might drop a pair and be held liable for payment, I decided not to try anything in there on. Maybe they should change the name of the Manhattan location to 'The Sunglass Boutique'. We exited the store just in time to hop the correct M34 bus which let us off at the Javits Center about 10 minutes later.

Over the years, I've been to many trade shows in Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago but none of those convention centers holds a candle to Javits regarding size. It's simply massive and there were something like four huge shows there and our group was the smallest of them all. But we were on a mission and didn't dilly dally around. We went downstairs to the registration for our show and quickly exchanged e-tickets for show badges and then went to the attraction booth to pick up our 'Hairspray' tickets. It was barely 11 am by the time we got back on the bus, but I was ready to head to Greenwich Village for lunch. Can you guess where we're going yet?

On the tour bus yesterday, we went through a part of the Village and I really wanted to hop off the bus, hop into a cab and demand to be taken to the mecca for all gluten free visitors to NYC - Risotteria. But I restrained myself - I would get there soon enough and I could only hope it was as good as the hype I'd read about it on every gluten free blog from here to tin-buck-two. And I'd prepared myself that it might not be, and that would be okay. I am after all a very picky gluten free patron.

When we got off the subway we decided to stop into a few stores and check out the tourist goods along the way. Then we spotted a used record store and I knew my husband would love checking it out and so we went in and were amazed by the massive collection of albums. Many of them were collectors' items and surprisingly, many were very well priced. We have a record player (yes, we're getting and love collecting music from our youth on vinyl. For me that's The Bee Gees, Billy Joel, Dan Fogelberg, Rod Stewart and even Bread and The Love Story Soundtrack. For my husband it's Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Credence Clearwater Revival and Clapton. How have we remained married for 19 years? Just kidding! Though we left without making a purchase, we loved experiencing this place - such gems are far and few between these days. If you're ever on Bleeker St. in the Village, look for the record store and enjoy! Oh and you might see the largest cat you've ever seen in there as well - there are two of them in fact. I took photos of them but those pictures were the only ones that did not come out...the cats looked like large dark grey was really odd. They must have had some security device in the store that interfered with my camera.

OK - the most anticipated restaurant visit of the trip was about to become a reality. There it was. The world famous (or at least US famous) Risotteria. I felt like I was in a dream but I was wide awake...the sun was shining so brightly it was blinding. I was about to have pizza (that I didn't have to make) for lunch....again. This is the third day in a row I've had pizza. I wanted to make myself get sick of it so I would not miss it when I returned home. This didn't happen, of course. Since we'd spent a fair amount of time lolly gagging on the way here, it was not peak lunch time when we arrived, but 1:30 pm. We entered and there were many open tables which was great. I was told not to come here during peak meal times because it's crazy busy and they don't take reservations. This would be the only leisurely lunch we'd have on vacation and I didn't want to feel rushed in any way.

We chose a table where I'd have a view of the whole place. It's quite small but did not feel cramped at all. The extensive gluten free menu chioces were overwhelming to say the least....pizzas, pastas, risottos, panini sandwiches and desserts. I ordered a Redbridge beer before noticing they had my favorite gluten free brand - Bard's Tale - so I had two beers during our long lunch. I'm not even a big beer drinker but I can't order Bard's Tale out at home so I wasn't passing this opportunity up. My husband wanted to try a gluten free panini but I didn't care what he had as long as I had pizza. I settled on the goat cheese, pesto and arugula personal pizza and enjoyed a gluten free bread stick with my beer. The bread sticks weren't hot but I didn't mind since I needed to save room for pizza, another beer and dessert! I'm not a big bread stick person anyway, but even at room temperature these were pretty good!

As we waited for our food, the place started getting busy which I thought was odd, considering the time of day. When my pizza arrived it sort of looked like a salad - there was so much lovely arugula on it! But underneath those greens,

pesto sauce and goat cheese was the thinnest, crispiest gluten free pizza crust I'd ever had. I've been trying to make this type of crust for over two years without success. The pizza was not good by gluten free standards - it was excellent by pizza standards, regardless of ingredients. It was some of the best pizza I've EVER had and I've had gluten pizza in Italy. Since it was so bright inside (two walls of windows) I had my sunglasses on and I was glad I did. Though many of my gluten free friends have told me of this happening to them, I had never experienced it personally. I started crying. They were tears of joy obviously, but it felt odd to be crying over something like food. Then I remembered that it wasn't about food at all. It was about being able to enjoy something as simple as pizza in a restaurant. Just like every other American can do any time they please. I have not been able to do do this in over two years and I felt like I was walking on cloud nine! Oh and my husband's sandwich (above left) was one of the best panini's he's ever had - and it was the only one he's had gluten free. He shared a bite with me and I could NOT believe it was gluten free!
After we finished our lunch (all but one piece of my pizza which I took with me) it was time for dessert. I went up to look at the pre-packaged gluten free treats and spotted a black-and-white cookie. Since it was warm out, I knew the icing would melt if we didn't eat it there so we split it (it's huge) and took two pieces of pound cake to go. The cookie was very good and soft, something hard to find in a gluten free cookie unless you bake them at home. We also bought two bags of their pizza crust/bread stick mix as well. As we left I realized the place was totally full of people and it's 3 pm on a week day. Nothing else in the area was busy at that time. Risotteria RULES! Thanks to owner Josheph Pace who runs the place and developed so many great gluten free recipes! He's a true hero in our community and now he just needs to franchise!

After lunch, we headed back to the UWS to hop on the Gray Line bus tour for the loop that goes through Harlem and the UES. Unfortunately, the tour guide on this bus was not only not any good, he was bad for NYC tourism. He said some less than kind things about the public school system in NYC which was bad enough, but then he broke out in song for no reason, during lulls in his spiel. And he could not sing at all so he best not quit his day job. I ignored him and focused on the scenery and was shocked to see the Guggenheim Museum with scaffolding all around it. There went my money shot....I wanted to take a really good photo of it but that didn't happen this trip. Before this loop was over, we started running out of time and had to hop a cab to the Inn so we could get ready for dinner.

Based on Debra's recommendation (from Sunday) we'd made reservations at Tini's Ristorante Italiano on the UES for our anniversary dinner. We decided to treat ourselves to a cab since there is no subway line that runs from Central Park West to Central Park East. We'd have to take a train south and then another north. We arrived slightly early and were seated immediately by the window. Tuesday is the slowest night for most restaurants and they were not too busy. Even though they offered gluten free pasta, the rosted pork loin infused with apple reduction, served
with garlic mashed potatoes sounded so tempting that I ordered that instead. Luckily, I can get gluten free pasta at several places in Atlanta. Both our meals were delicious and even the salad was one of the best we'd had on vacation. But what was just as great was dealing with the highly educated staff at Tini's. How refreshing it was to order from a menu with interesting and extensive gluten free offerings, and know that the everyone there was dedicated to doing everything humanly possible to feed you safely. The staff at Tini's knows how to court the gluten free set and that's exactly what I'm looking for these days.

After dinner, I asked Enzo (the host who I think is also part owner) for permission to post the photos I took on my blog. He was thrilled to oblige me and promptly sent over complimentary after dinner drinks. Enzo's brother Giuseppe is the very talented Chef here. Oh yeah, I had one of the best chocolate mousse desserts of my life - so thick the spoon stood up in it. The only place I've ever had anything like this before was Paris. It's a truly remarkable treat but my husband couldn't taste it, due to the dark chocolate thing. And so I took some of it with me to go. We had a lovely anniversary and I highly recommend Tini's for a romantic dinner for two, or for a great dinner with good friends! But hurry, the building they're in is being torn down so they will close on June 30th. They will re-open at 1574 2nd Avenue under the new name of 'Opus', in mid to late July. They plan to make gluten free bread and pizza in the new space. Good luck guys and we'll definitely return on our next visit to check out Opus!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NYC Gluten Free Vacation - Day Two

I woke up today realizing I'd get to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with actual New Yorkers for the first time ever. We'd been invited to visit Everybody Eats in Brooklyn for their company party, which several customers were also invited to. We'd be the only out-of-state guests there, and I was excited to finally to meet owners Bruce and Pedro, as well as the people who actually bake my favorite gluten free bakery bread - their French baguettes and deli rolls.

First things first though, we had pre-purchased tickets for the Gray Line hop-on / hop-off bus tour online, and wanted to do the downtown loop segment (there are four total) before having lunch and heading to Brooklyn for the party at 2 pm. After a short subway ride and a five minute walk, we arrived to the Gray Line office and exchanged our e-tickets for real ones. Another quick walk to the downtown loop bus stop and we were finally on our way to enjoy the sights the easy way -sitting down. It was a lovely sunny morning...beautiful blue skies...the perfect day for such a tour. We had seen most of the sites on this tour before but not from this perspective. One of the best parts was the tour guide - one of the most entertaining we've had ever, on any type of tour. He was a true born and bread New Yorker and was proud of it. We admired the passion and enthusiasm he had for his most fabulous city! I think we completed about 90% of this tour and decided to get out very close to where we were heading for lunch. This photo (which I took from the bus) is pretty much the scene in the etching print I bought at the artist market yesterday.

Remember Debra, the lady we sat with at the Meetup event? She told us to go to Mozzarelli's for pizza and to ask for David. When we arrived there it was peak lunch hour and the place was overcrowded to say the least. It's a long narrow space with limited seating capacity. There are a few tables and a long bar along the wall with stools. We lucked out and snagged as table when two patrons got up to leave. After going without restaurant pizza for over two years, it's a bit daunting to see four gluten free pizzas on the top shelf of the pizza line and have to pick just one. They sell it by the slice so we ended up with three of the four types of pie anyway. I think most people with Celiac would be worried about cross contamination but Mozzarelli's is doing their absolute best to keep the gluten free food truly gluten free. If you want them to explain their process to you, they'll be happy to do so - just ask. The first thing I noticed was that the gluten free pizzas were all rectangular, and the others were round. The gluten free pizzas were on top of the display - they could contaminate the gluten pizzas with crumbs, but not the other way around. You pick the pizzas slice(s) you want and they heat it up on foil - for gluten free slices you get a huge square that almost fills the paper plate they serve it on. At $4 a slice, it's quite the bargain indeed!

I started with the pepperoni pizza and my husband started with the sausage and pepper...I think. He immediately started raving about his and said it was the best gluten free pizza he'd had to date - then he quickly added that he meant except for the ones I make at home. Good try Sweetie but I'm woman enough to admit the truth. As good as my pizza is, it doesn't compare to Mozzarelli's - period. While I'm trying to savor every bite of my delicious pizza...gooey cheese and all - my husband scarfs his piece down and heads back up for another piece. I notice a couple to my left who seemed like tourists to me. It was clear that most, if not all of the patrons were locals, but this couple stood out. Then I noticed the lady picking up her pizza - it was square. She was a gluten free sister and so of course, I started up a conversation with her. She and her husband were there on vacation from the Midwest. She pulled out her list of places they'd either already been to, or were planning on going and we compaered notes. One place they absolutely loved was Lumi so that's on my short list for the next trip. We knew this place was excellent, but we could not go to every great place in one trip.

During our delightful conversation, the couple told us about their trip with Bob and Ruth's Travel Club for the African Safari. Oh my gosh - that's one of my my dream vacations - and now I know I can go on it gluten free! These people had the time of their lives on that trip and the husband said the gluten free food was so much better than the gluten offerings that after the first meal, he only ate gluten free and loved it! I've heard good things about Bob and Ruth's Travel Club but have not joined them for a trip yet. I'm going to have to look into that for sure now.

On our way out, I finally met the owner David, as well as Elan who made our tasty pizza (that's him in the photo below). I'd asked for permission to photograph the pizza behind the glass for my blog, and mentioned that Debra sent us. After granting me permission to snap some shots, David explained that they host a totally 100% gluten free day there once a month - always on a weekend day, when they are normally closed. They serve gluten free pizza, pasta and tons of other gluten free goodies - how fabulous is that?! Then David took me to the cooler by the front door. There he showed me some gluten free desserts in take out containers - peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip biscotti. Biscotti always reminds me of Italy so I picked up a container and went to pay for it. 'No - please enjoy it with our compliments' said the pretty lady at the register who might be David's wife. You know, New Yorkers are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet - and coming from the land of Southern hospitality, that's saying a lot! If you're ever in NYC, stop into Mozzarelli's and have some excellent, inexpensive gluten free pizza tell them TJ from Atlanta sent you. OK - they probably won't remember me but I'll never forget them and their fabulous gluten free pizza! Thanks Guys - for supporting the gluten free community - we appreciate it more than we can say!

After our informative and delicious lunch, we headed to the subway on route to Brooklyn. From the station, it was a quick three walk block to Everybody Eats but we did go the wrong way on one street. After our two minute detour and we got back on track and got to the building where we thought the bakery was...the address fit and we were on the correct street but the first door we entered was not Everybody Eats. However, they told us to go two more doors down and finally we got there. The bakery had been transformed to a party space - complete with a gluten free Mexican buffet! Of course, we were totally stuffed from lunch so we could not partake in too much of the food....or I should say I could not eat much. As usual, the husband always finds a way to fit more food into his 'thin as a rail' frame. Everything I did nibble on was delicious and I had the BEST guacamole I've ever had. The secret was smoked avocados...who knew?! Please don't ask me how to smoke an avocado though - I just enjoyed it - I didn't ask for the recipe.

Our party hosts were Bruce and Pedro - the owners of the bakery and they are as delightful as I'd imagined they would be. Their employees Iris and Arturo were just precious - a young married couple shown in the photo below. There were pinatas hanging up and colorful decor galore. Bruce even went to the trouble of making a gluten free pinata with cornstarch and water. He learned the hard way that you have to boil the mixure in order for it to work as a!

from left to right: Pedro, Iris, Bruce, Arturo

In any event, his project turned out great and it certainly looked like something you'd find in a store that sells pinatas. I'm sorry to say I somehow left without a photo of it. We had Cinco de Mayo music playing on a very impressive stereo CD gadget I've never seen before, run by a laptop. Pedro got most of the ladies (even me once) to dance and everyone had a most festive time. We met so many wonderful people - from Andrea Meyers Catering was Chef Andrea Meyers and her cooks Billy and Rick, from Choice Cooking Co. next door was Chef Ryan Brown, cook Andres and dishwasher Felicita and I think that Margaret from Funny Girl Catering ltd. was the one who made the oh-so-tasty guacamole. One guy there used to live in GA - in Marietta, actually. Julie, a long time customer was going to Panama City, FL the following week to visit her Mother for Mother's Day. I was born and raised about 40 miles away in Port St. Joe, FL. What a small world it really is! Once the pinatas were busted (the cornstarch one was almost impossible to break) the party wound down and we had to say goodbye to our new friends. But we left with memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to the Bruce and Pedro, the crew and friends of Everybody Eats in Brooklyn - we hope to visit you again one day!

It turned out that guest and loyal bakery customer Julie, lives on the UWS and she offered us a lift back into the city. How nice was that? We enjoyed a pleasant but brief trip back to Manhattan and strangely did not run into much rush hour traffic, even though it was around 5 pm. After sharing with us a couple of places she thought were worth trying for dinner during our visit, Julie dropped us about a block from our Inn, at the Westside Hwy. exit near 77th St. We thanked her for her hospitality and restaurant tips and headed to our little apartment with gluten free goodies from Everybody Eats. Though the bakery is only open on Saturday for walk in traffic, they were kind enough to let me pick out a few things I really wanted to try - ravioli, chocolate chip cookies and bagels.

We had not actually made reservations for dinner that night and so we called Bouley Upstairs to confirm they could accommodate us with gluten free meals and they said they could accommodate all allergies. Julie eats there often without issue but it's always best to check before you arrive some place new to you. Chefs do quit or get replaced and a safe place for us today, might not be good for us tomorrow. Since the place is tiny and they don't take reservations, I felt a little appetizer at our home away from home was in order. Spinach-Ricotta ravioli anyone? Knowing I'd have to eat the ravioli in NY since it's frozen, I'd already picked up a tiny jar of pasta sauce at Fairway. I've never seen such a small jar of sauce before but it suited our needs perfectly. At the party, Pedro had explained how to prepare the pasta correctly - boil it over medium heat for about 10 minutes, drain and add sauce. It was super easy but it tasted like something you'd be find while dining in it was made by hand with great care. That is of course, because that is how everything at Everybody Eats is made. To say the ravioli was great is a huge understatement. I have six packs of it arriving today - overnight shipping and all. If you ever try it, you'll be hooked for life so consider yourself forewarned.

OK - we've rested up a bit, had a scrumptious snack - in case we have a long wait for dinner - and changed attire. We head to the subway to get to Bouley Upstairs. Along the way, we pass the regular Bouley, the more expensive restaurant owned by the same person - Chef David Bouley - who also owns the Bouley Bakery, below Bouley Upstairs. It sounds confusing but it's not when you're there. We climb a narrow staircase to the restaurant to find we can be seated almost immediately. If we'd arrived about 10 minutes later, we would have been on the waiting list. The table where we were seated was next to (I mean touching) another table for two so I figured if someone else was seated there, we'd be pretty hard pressed to have any privacy. Next to us was a corner table and so when the couple there left, we asked to move over a foot to that table. At least now I had a great view of outside and the entire restaurant. I think by NYC standards, this place wouldn't be considered tiny but to us, it was exactly that. There was space for about 28 diners at tables, and maybe 6 at the Sushi bar. You could see the Chefs cooking and we enjoyed that.

I must say that our meals were exceptionally fantastic, truly gluten free (as all my meals of the trip were) and the artisinal cheese plate we had for dessert was the best we've had in while - it almost transported me to Paris. I ordered the Chatham Bay boat lobster dish and loved it but can't explain it to you. However, the cramped space and hearing everything being said at the tables next to us is just not our thing. Plus, when the server arrived at the table and I mentioned I'd need a gluten free meal, he looked like he'd never heard the word before, and then returned a moment later acting as if he'd written a book on it. He got our vote for the worst server of the trip and must be an actor trying to pay the rent. I'm sure a regular customer would enjoy the experience more, and be used to tight dining spaces. I'm sure we'd love Bouley next door but our budget would!

So - that in an extremely long nutshell - is the summary of our first full day in NYC. It was a most entertaining adventure - from the double decker bus tour, to another pizza lunch with strangers, to the party at Everybody Eats, to an amazingly delicious dinner. We finally settled into our little apartment and anticipated how great it would be to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary in one of the best cities in the world!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Gluten Free dining tour of NYC - Day One

After waiting two years to get there, I finally made it to the Big Apple for a gluten free eating tour of the city, but I was surprised by how hard it was to pare down the enormous list of safe places for me to eat. So much great food and so little time! I posted a question on the Celiac listserve, asking for New Yorkers' fave places for great gluten free meals (NOT bland meals such as plain fish, rice and steamed veggies) and ordered 'The Gluten-Free Guide to New York'. Not surprisingly, I was inundated with great ideas and tips on where to eat in NYC, as well as where to shop for gluten free food by my listmates, and the NY gluten free guide book was well worth the money. It includes sample menus from many of the places mentioned, and gluten free friendly restaurants for NYC and far beyond. When the month of May arrived (we try to vacation on our wedding anniversary) the time came for us to board the plane and head up to New York. I could hardly wait! This wasn't our first trip to the city so we'd done all the touristy things before - this trip was all about the fabulous gluten free food! Sightseeing would be planned around where we were eating and not the other way around. Oh the strange lives we lead when gluten free.

Since I'm an organizer for the Atlanta Gluten Free Dinner Club, I contacted the same group in NYC prior to the visit and found out they had a pizza party planned for the very day we arrived - how perfect was that? We were to land at 11:30 am, and their party was downtown at 3 pm - sign me up! We did land on time, but since the Five Borough Bike Tour was that very day, and almost every bridge into Manhattan from Laguardia was closed, we had quite the time getting to the UWS (Upper West Side) to our Inn. But finally, after a very long and interesting cab ride, we did make it to Wyman House. Our room wasn't ready yet and while dropping our bags off, we met some ladies checking out that told us to to to the flea market up the street, and the artist fair across from the market. We had the time before our pizza extravaganza and so we headed off to peruse the flea market wares first. Though the offerings were interesting, quite varied (from produce to jewelry to beaded handbags) and well priced, I didn't find anything I could not live without. So we headed across the street to the artist market where I found an etching print that I could not pass up. It was that famous scene at Times Square that I've always know that enormous sign in the middle there? After making my first and only non food purchase of the trip (I was SOOOO good!), I called PizzaBolla - the restaurant hosting the NYC gluten free pizza party - to make sure the event was still on and confirmed our directions.

Upon arrival to the 72nd street subway station, we purchased 7 day Metro Cards that offer unlimited use on the subway and regular buses. At $25 a card for a week, it was the best deal going in NYC. Because it was Sunday afternoon, and we were headed downtown, the subway was refreshingly uncrowded. We took the 1 train down to Chambers St. and walked a few blocks to PizzaBolla. We arrived just after 3 pm and were surprised that we were the first people there for the pizza party...but eventually seven more people showed up and they started making our pizzas. The guy running the place - Jonah - even asked us what kind of pizza we wanted. I asked for the 'white' pizza and others asked for various other types. In the end, I tried three different flavors and the 'white' pizza was my least favorite. Jonah served us a fresh green salad and even baked us chocolate chip cookies! I smelled something burning a bit and it turned out to be the! We had to discard the black edges but the cookie part that wasn't burned was gooey and incredibly delicious!

At PizzaBolla, we sat with a 'real' New Yorker named Debra who gave us some great tips about where to eat - or not - and based on her advice, we changed our dinner reservations for our anniversary on Tuesday. We're so glad we did - thanks Debra! That's her in the photo holding some pizza, and I'm in the hat with Jonah. He was very funny and was eager to please the gluten free set. It was wonderful to feel so welcomed and appreciated as a gluten free patron. Due to the small space we were in, we didn't get to chat much with the other gluten free diners there, but I met Liz (the organizer of the event) and she was quite nice. Oh and I had a Redbridge beer with my pizza since they didn't have Bard's Tale, my favorite domestic gluten free beer. Can you imagine?...gluten free beer, pizza and chocolate chip cookies....priceless! Sure I can have this all at home any time - as long as I want to make it myself. But someone else made all this fabulous food and it was quite tasty with no gluten free texture or taste. If you're in the Financial district of NYC, be sure to stop by PizzaBolla and they have another location as well - I think on the UES (Upper East Side). The downtown location is about a block from the World Trade Center site.

So, we left our pizza party full and happy around 5 pm and my husband said we didn't need to have dinner. I knew in a couple of hours he'd feel differently and sure enough he did. So we headed by foot to Sambuca, an Italian Trattoria on the UWS, less than a mile from our Inn. This place serves 'family style' and they have two sizes of main dishes - regular and large. We ordered a chicken dish in the regular size, same for the salad, with a side of mashed potatoes. When the chicken plate arrived we though there was a mistake - surely this isn't the regular size....except it was. And the mashed potatoes would easily feed six people. Oh well, we couldn't send it back and so we ate what we could and had the extra packed to go. Our little apartment had a full kitchen so could eat it later. I also took their gluten free brownie to go, frozen and without ice cream since there was no way for me to consume it that night. My husband is allergic to dark chocolate so I had to eat the whole huge brownie all by my lonesome. It took me three tries and the last bit wound up at home in Atlanta with ice cream on was THE BEST gluten free brownie I've had to date!

In between our pizza party and our dinner at Sambuca, we visited a rather famous grocery store near our Inn, called Fairway. I knew from my listmates that the gluten free section was upstairs so we headed up there first. Sure enough they had quite a few things we don't have here but they didn't have anywhere near the selection we have at home. I heard the best pickings are in the suburbs and that make sense - the shelf space probably cost less than half of what it does on the UWS of Manhattan.

By far, the best part of this shopping trip was that I saw, and was about two feet away from, an actor whose work I've always enjoyed - John Slattery. His most recent tv role was on 'Desperate Housewives' where he played Gabrielle's husband 'Victor'. He was also Julie's fiance on the show 'Ed', and he did a short stint on 'Sex and the City', where he was Carrie's love interest for about a minute. My husband saw him first and tapped my shoulder. I turned around just in time to see this gorgeous man walk right by me. He looked at me and I'm sure he was afraid I was going to run after him and beg for an autograph because I looked just like I felt - totally starstruck! This guy looks pretty good on camera but this does not compare to how great he looks in person. I just stood there like I didn't know what to do next. Then I noticed John had a kid with him so I respected his privacy and left him alone. He went over to the supplement section and checked to make sure I wasn't following! I smiled and turned to the stairs and he looked relieved. I was SO proud of myself and my husband still can't get over the fact that I was so unlike myself at that moment. If the kid hadn't been there...that privacy thing would have gone out the window and I would have tried to get a photo or autograph or both!

So I guess you could say that I had a pretty good first day in NYC! I felt like a kid in a candy store where everything in the candy store was gluten free. Of course, NYC is in the US so it's not as great as being in many parts of Europe or Australia, but it's about the best place stateside for great gluten free offerings. I went to sleep in our gorgeous room at Wyman House wondering how the next day could be any better.

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